Occupy Wall Street movement comes to Nebraska cities

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October 18, 2011 - 7:00pm

Chants of "We are the 99 percent!" filled the air at last weekend's Occupy Lincoln march, where about 500 people walked in support of the Occupy Wall Street protest.

"Money is not speech. That's what I'm trying to get across," said marcher and Lincoln resident Timothy Vogeler. "And there's a lot of corporations that use their money to dictate what goes on, and go against the public's interest."


Slideshow of pictures from Occupy Lincoln and Occupy Omaha by Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News, and Robyn Wisch, KVNO, respectively.


A map of Occupy Wall Street-inspired protests and camp-outs worldwide.

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Cars honked their support as they passed; Vogeler, 21, lives in Lincoln, but he's originally from the central Nebraska town of Scotia.

"There's a gas station," he said with a laugh, "and, well we used to have a grocery store until it closed.

"There's no one my age; we all have to leave," he continued. "We have to come to Lincoln, go to school, or if we decide not to go to school, just find a job and live. Because, I mean, we can't live there. There's no jobs there, obviously."

Vogeler dropped out of college because he wasn't sure what to study, and it was too expensive to stay; he now works two jobs.

The Occupy movement sweeping the nation, and even the world, started with Occupy Wall Street in New York. Protesters' demands are wide and varied, though they focus on wealth disparity and the role money plays in politics.

Nebraska native Shannon Geis was there. The 23-year-old left her hometown of Beaver Crossing to attend college in New York, and she spoke with NET News last week from the Wall Street protest.

"On the other side is where a lot of the like sleeping bags and air mattresses and tarps and everything are," she said, describing the campsite of the protest. "There's been a lot of criticism about the idea that there's no specific message. But I kind of like that, because I think that the broad idea of just ... there's a huge disparity between the richest and the poorest, and that needs to be addressed."

Since Occupy Wall Street began about a month ago, it's spread to cities large and small, including Omaha and Kearney. Both cities held Occupy marches Saturday.

Twenty-eight-year-old Tarik Arram is one of the organizers of Occupy Kearney. He said about 30 people showed up to the protest, which collected donations for the Nebraska Partnership Council.

"You know, this is kind of just the beginning of a movement," he said. "Read back, like civil rights and stuff, that didn't happen in a month or two months. In the meanwhile we might as well try to make changes in our communities and stuff. Strengthen that at the same time."

The Omaha Police Department estimated the Occupy Omaha crowd at between 900 and 1,000 people. Protester Veronica Conteras said she was marching to show the diversity of the movement.

Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News

Samantha Swanson, her dog Homey, and Kenneth Lane watch the march. Swanson and Lane are homeless.

"There's this stigma that people protesting don't have jobs, and that we're just hippies and that we have a political agenda, and it's not about that," she said. "It's about everyone in the community coming together. We all have different religious beliefs, different political beliefs, different stances on everything, but the one thing that we're united on is that we have a corrupt government, and we need change."

So far, Lincoln is the only city in Nebraska that has overnight protesters - about two dozen people are camped out across the street from the state capitol building - but Omaha organizers said they hope to begin staging overnight protests soon.

Why Nebraska? After all, the state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. But Michael Wagner, a political science professor with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the gap between the rich and the poor in the state is just as high as the rest of the country. He said Nebraska also has a "significant" number of people living in poverty.

Back at Occupy Lincoln, two of those people living in poverty said they appreciate the protest's intentions, but they don't think it will do much good.

Sitting outside a Walgreens in downtown Lincoln, 19-year-old Samantha Swanson and 22-year-old Kenneth Lane watched the march go by with their dog, Homey. Lane held a sign that read, "Homeless - anything will help."

"I don't think it's really going to help anybody," Swanson said. "More needs to be in Washington D.C. More than anything. This march, it would show the whole entire government."

Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News

An estimated 500 protestors marched Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011 for Occupy Lincoln. Around 30 were camping in front of the capitol building as of Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011.

"Basically, there's people that are sitting out here living homeless everyday and not having anyway to get money, because everybody that's over there and in the government just take all the jobs," Lane said, gesturing toward the marchers.

Political science professor Michael Wagner agreed.

"The likelihood that major radical change comes to how the nation conducts business in a regulated capitalist environment is low," he said. "It's very unlikely that we're going to have a transformative change to how we do economic business based on the Occupy Wall Street movement."

But, he says protesters' more radical demands could result in increased support for left-of-center politicians and policies, such as higher taxes for the wealthy, by making them appear more moderate.

Back at Lincoln's veritable tent city, Jo and Tom Tetherow set up camp. Jo, 65, said when she graduated from college, it was pretty much guaranteed that she could get a job with benefits that paid a living wage. She said that's not the case anymore.

She and the other occupiers said they're determined to make their voices heard - at least until it gets too cold.

"What if it's three months, six months, are you willing to stay here?" an NET News reporter asked.

"Well, I don't know if I'll be able to take it in the middle of winter in Nebraska when it gets ten below.," Jo Tetherow said. "That's a little out of my range. That's a little crazy."

"Once it gets a little bit too much below freezing ..." Tom Tetherow added with a chuckle.

"Yeah, that's when it gets a little dodgy," Jo Tetherow said. "And I'm sure the city took that into consideration when they gave us permission."

By way of full disclosure, Shannon Geis is a former NET News intern.



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